Shifting winds in the world of particle accelerators: the Fermilab

I’ve been spending more time with physicists (in my own mind, anyway) than is usual for me.  I’m sure this will pass but while I’m hot (so to speak) on the topic, here’s an item about the Fermilab in the US. From the Feb. 1, 2012 news release on EurekAlert,

In this month’s Physics World, reviews and careers editor, Margaret Harris, visits the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) to explore what future projects are in the pipeline now that the Tevatron particle accelerator has closed for good.

After 28 years of ground-breaking discoveries, the Tevatron accelerator has finally surrendered to the mighty Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN [European Laboratory for Particle Physics], placing Fermilab, in some people’s mind, on the brink of disappearing into obscurity.

(I did cover some of the excitement over the Higgs Boson search at the the LHC at CERN in my Dec. 14, 2011 posting.) As for the folks at the Fermilab, they  do have plans (from the news release),

Fermilab can no longer compete with the LHC when it comes to smashing particles together at high energies, but it can look for rare interactions between particles at lower energies. In this type of experiment, the key is not a beam’s energy but its intensity: the number of particles produced per second.

Their plans include two experiments – one already being built and another in the pipeline – that will send beams of neutrinos underground to distant detectors to see how these particles change between one form and another.

More ambitious still is Project X – expected to cost between $1-2bn – which will provide intense beams of protons for experiments on neutrinos, rare decays and heavy nuclei. Outside of high-energy physics, the lab currently participates in experiments into cosmic rays, dark matter and dark energy.

One aspect,  I find particularly interesting about this news release and article is that it makes some of the positioning and jockeying for funds visible to a larger audience than is common in Canadian circles. From the news release,

One obstacle that stands in the way of Fermilab’s progression is money. With the US Congress’s budgetary process – which allocates funds one year at a time – threatening to delay projects, combined with the current economic downturn, there is cause for concern, especially for a lab currently in transition.

The other aspect I find interesting is that while the Fermilab is based in Illinois (US), the article is being published by the UK-based Institute of Physics in their Physics World journal. Is this article part of a larger public relations initiative on behalf of physicists in the UK concerned about their funding? Nassif Ghoussoub at his Piece of Mind blog notes some of the discussion currently taking place in the UK about one of its funding agencies in his Jan. 31, 2012 posting and what is sometimes called ‘basic research’.

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